Leading Ulster is a huge honour, insists Rory Best
Ulster, Ireland and Lions stalwart Rory Best will end his top level rugby career at Kingspan Stadium.
Ahead of leading his side out at against Leinster at Dublin’s RDS in the Pro12 this evening (7.35pm kick-off), Ulster captain Best committed the rest of his career to his native province.
The 33-year-old, whose current deal would have expired at the end of this season, has signed a two-year extension to carry his Ulster tenure up until at least the summer of 2018 when he will be nudging 36. Even then, he could command a further year but his retirement will come in an Ulster jersey, his new deal has ensured.
Having made his debut just over 11 years ago, Ireland’s most-capped hooker of all time has already amassed 172 outings for the side.
Tonight’s contest, that will see Ruan Pienaar win his 100th cap for the Ulster, pits two provinces trying to bounce back from European defeats against each other with Iain Henderson expecting another intense encounter.
“We just need to get back to winning ways then we can press on,” said the Ulster and Ireland forward. “This next game is a great chance to do that.
“Leinster are going to be fired up, they’re always feisty enough affairs anyway, but the teams are out with something to prove and that makes it even bigger really.
“I’ve been training with their players for so long at the World Cup, and them with us. We know all each other’s strengths and weaknessesl. It makes for a really interesting game.”
Henderson’s positional switch is one of four changes made to the Ulster side that lost to Saracens in the Champions Cup last weekend as director of rugby Les Kiss aims to keep things fresh in the midst of a 16-week run of consecutive games that could yet stretch even further depending on the re-scheduling of the postponed contest with Oyonnax.
Best will be joined in the front-row by Kyle McCall and Wiehahn Herbst. The skipper said of his new two-year deal: "It is a great honour to play for Ulster and Ireland and I am privileged to have the opportunity to captain this talented group of Ulster players.
"Our challenge now is to deliver on the promise we have shown and reward our fans with strong performances."
Henderson is making his second start after returning from finger surgery in the Champions Cup a week ago and takes the place of the rested Franco van der Merwe at lock with Robbie Diack in turn coming into the back-row.
With Chris Henry starting the game on the bench, his No.7 jersey is occupied by Sean Reidy while Nick Williams retains his place at the base of the scrum.
Among the backs, new centurion Ruan Pienaar maintains his partnership at half-back with Irish international Paddy Jackson with only one change to the backline that faced Saracens.
Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Stuart McCloskey and Craig Gilroy are all retained with the sole switch seeing Louis Ludik drop to the bench as Peter Nelson gets the nod at full-back.
Joining the South African and Henry among the replacements are Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys, Rob Herring, Andrew Warwick, Ricky Lutton and Roger Wilson.